Pension gripes increase by two thirds Maxwel

A flood of complaints about occupational pension schemes trebled the workload of the Pensions Ombudsman Julian Farrand in the year to 31 March, according to his annual report published yesterday.

But the sharp increase in complaints partly reflects an increased public awareness of the performance of their pensions funds, as a direct result of publicity over the mis-selling of personal pensions and the Maxwell scandal, Mr Farrand said.

The number of initial complaints received in the year covered by the report increased by two thirds to 3,639, but many of these were referred on to other ombudsmen or to the Occupational Pensions Advisory Service. Dr Farrand's office itself took on 829 new cases.

With the 225 already in hand at the beginning of the year the new complaints trebled his caseload to a record 1,054, compared with the previous 12 months.

The number of complaints dealt with by the office was up by 130 per cent to 401, with an average pay-out of around pounds 15,000 where complaints were found to be justified.

The biggest single award was for pounds 30 million against the food company Hillsdown Holdings after Dr Farrand found that it had acted unlawfully in siphoning pounds 18.4m of surplus pension funds for its own use.

The pensions ombudsman's decision, which was upheld in the High Court, included the payment of interest as well as the repayment of the pension money.

The most common complaints to the ombudsman were difficulties resulting from the winding-up of pension schemes when companies have closed down.

Individuals also complained about delays in getting benefits transferred from one employer's pension scheme to another after moving to a new job and therefore starting with a replacement pension scheme.

Other causes for concern included over-optimistic quotations of pensions due in the case of redundancy or early retirement and problems with pension payments or other benefits.